As the Montenegro contract and claims of bribery blow their wind on all the local headlines, everybody’s response was that of disgust. Politicians and influencers rush to speak of another hit to our reputation and warn of dire consequences to our economy. Yet after 4 years of news on Panama, Daphne’s murder, the three Kinks and possible bribery in the PN, do we still believe that we have a reputation to save?
What Is Reputation?
Reputation is generally held as people’s beliefs and opinions on who we are and what we do. Reputation shapes people’s decisions on whether businesses invest in Malta. In turn, this affects our jobs, the money we make and the lifestyle we live. If we are to somehow save our reputation, we really need to understand how it works.
Imagine you hear of an amazing restaurant. You go, enjoy it, go again and start recommending it. Then after 3 years, the quality of the food drops. At first, you forgive them but if it happens again you never go back. And when you see adverts of that restaurant, not only will you not go but all you will feel is betrayed. Malta’s reputation, like this restaurant, was not tarnished because of what people said but because of its behaviour towards its quality.
Can we recover our reputation?
In 2016 VW was accused of intentionally placing software in their cars to manipulate emissions results during testing. The result of this exposure cost the company tens of billions of dollars in lawsuits and a tarnished reputation. As the company adjusted its ways the automaker became the highest producing automaker by 2018, overtaking Toyota.
VW recovered its reputation because of its consistent quality outweighed their mistake. It was their consistent focus on quality that allowed them to bounce back so quickly. If Malta is to recover its reputation, we need to stop looking at the opinions of others and look at the quality of our nation. We need to ask, ‘What reputation do we want Malta to have?’ Based on the answer we then need to consistently live that reputation.
Looking Beyond The Apparent
As a management student I was taught that when there is a consistent problem, the solution doesn’t lie in what is apparent. Like an iceberg, the things we see happening around us are only its tip. Unless we explore what is beneath the iceberg, we cannot fully solve the reputation problem. To continue with the iceberg analogy, we are taught that what lies under the water are the attitudes, beliefs and values of the culture.
On 31st March and 21st September, we celebrate 2 feasts Freedom & Independence Day. My question is are we truly free and independent or do we secretly relish the times we spent in servitude of foreign regimes? Could it be that we enjoyed being pirates (under the Knights) and stealing (from our British oppressors) so much that we can’t help but steal from our own country? The Knights and British have left but our culture stayed. Today this manifests itself in how people boast that they are evading tax, not claiming VAT and stealing from their employer.
Is Our Economy Unbalanced?
If you analyse our current white and grey economies you will see that they are based mostly on construction, money laundering, tourism, gaming and food. These economic pillars make their money selling short term products and can only survive if they sell large numbers regularly. Such an economic model rewards people whose skills and attitudes support the fast selling of products.
When an economy is geared to incentivise short term wins, it will attract those who are lured by the idea of getting rich fast. Together with no apparent enforcement, people may turn to unethical behaviour to reach their goals. What is happening to our country reflects 60 years of allowing an unhealthy attitude to cripple our economy. Like an untreated virus, it has festered into major disease.
A Road to Recovery?
If we are serious about our reputation, we need to come together and formulate a long-term plan for our economy. We will need to think of how our laws, education and infrastructure will incentivise people who are creative, skilled and entrepreneurial to create employment that is not based on short term profiteering. This will balance and reward the many small and large service-based enterprises who have built their own livelihood and prosperity through their passion, dedication and perseverance.
We will not solve the reputation issue by putting some thugs behind bars. Although it may look easier to keep up appearances, it will only do us harm in the long term. It seems to me that this small rotten part of our culture has overcome its beauty leaving a stench that cannot be contained. Rather than minimising the stench, why not start appreciating and nourishing the beauty of this country and the potential each person has. It is then that we will start moving towards the Malta we would like people to talk of. Then, we won’t need to manage our reputation, it will speak volumes of the beauty of who we are.
As seen on the Times of Malta on 6th July 2020. See article here.